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Six Albemarle officers cleared in fatal shooting

The girlfriend of the man shot to death by police officers in late February told investigators that 44-year-old Billy James Sites told her that he wasn’t going back to jail and “would rather be carried by six than tried by twelve.”

That’s among the revelations of a new Virginia State Police report that clears the six Albemarle County Police officers whose gunfire killed the troubled man, according to a lengthy letter prepared by Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joseph Platania.

“The amount of force used was not excessive and was objectively reasonable in relation to the perceived threat,” Platania wrote in the conclusion of his eight-page letter released Friday afternoon.

Sites died February 28 from seven gunshots he received while allegedly pointing a pistol at officers at the end of a nearly two-hour standoff. The incident had centered on the Red Roof Inn and closed down portions of Emmet Street and the U.S. Route 250 Bypass.

A Red Roof Inn guest who told a Daily Progress journalist that day that he didn’t think that Sites pointed his gun at police allegedly recanted during the investigation by admitting that he didn’t actually see the shooting, only a video he made on his cellphone. The Progress was unable to reach that witness Friday.

Platania contends that 15 body-worn cameras, two police vehicle dash-cams, 398 photographs, 57 pieces of evidence, drone footage and 34 witness interviews told a different story to Special Agent A. Justin Wouters, who led the investigation for the state police’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Sites had allegedly sent girlfriend Christina Martinez text messages “making threats of death and bodily injury.” Court records suggest that the couple had a tumultuous relationship with her having obtained assault and battery warrants against him, and his father once swearing out one such warrant on her. In this case, however, an Albemarle officer obtained a felony warrant against Sites for communicating a threat, plus a pair of misdemeanor warrants for violating no-contact protective orders.

What follows is taken from Platania’s account. On the morning of Feb. 28 a police detective spotted Sites’ distinctively black spray-painted Ford F-150 pickup truck at the Red Roof Inn where Martinez had allegedly rented a room for Sites to avoid getting served with the criminal warrants.

The report says that after Charlottesville officers spotted Sites, he refused to drop his weapon despite 27 requests for him to do so in order to peacefully end a stalemate that had Sites fleeing police and twice firing gunshots into the air, including at least one near an occupied office building.

“All of this was captured on body worn cameras that the officers had activated,” reads Platania’s letter.

A little over 40 minutes into the standoff, the Charlottesville crisis negotiation team was activated, to little avail.

“Y’all just going to have to shoot me,” Sites allegedly said. “I’m going to start firing off myself.”

Eventually, Albemarle County’s SWAT team placed a Bearcat armored vehicle between Sites and the Red Roof Inn as Sites allegedly asked at various points for water, for his father, and to “get high.”

After Sites put a gun to his head, several other tactics were employed. In one, an unarmed Albemarle patrol officer who knew Sites gave up his cover to approach and utter friendly greetings such as “I’m right here” and “We’re working with you, brother.” The officer asked Sites 24 times to drop his weapon, according to the report.

With Sites claiming a second weapon and walking toward the deserted 250 Bypass in the direction of neighborhoods and other populated areas, approval was given to hit him three times over the course of several minutes with non-lethal 40mm sponge rounds.

“After being struck the third time, Sites turned to his right, extended his arm and raised his pistol to shoulder level and pointed it directly at the exposed SWAT officers who were in front of him,” the report asserts. “At this time, six ACPD officers simultaneously discharged their firearms.”

The standoff had lasted an hour and 52 minutes, and the medical examiner reported that most of the seven shots hitting Sites struck his upper torso with several to his legs including one to an ankle. Sites died later that day at the University of Virginia Medical Center.

“This looks like suicide by cop,” longtime local attorney David Heilberg told the Daily Progress. “He didn’t want to kill himself; he wanted them to kill him.”

Heilberg said that the fact officers fired simultaneously would bolster their claims of fear and self-defense in using deadly force.

“They were extremely patient,” said Heilberg. “The guy wouldn’t back down.”

Platania’s report noted that Martinez acknowledged that renting a room to hide a fugitive was illegal, but local court records do not show that she has been charged. He also declined, via a statement in his letter, to release video footage of the incident out of respect to a request by the father of Sites.


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